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The EJ Task Force’s First Step

Written by Tiffany Mendoza

The Environmental Justice Task Force is now in full force. On September 30th, the Environmental Justice Task Force met for the first time at Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood (See here and here for video links on TWV). This meeting was a chance for the Task Force to come together for the first time to adopt our bylaws and principles, discuss the Health Disparities map, determine our team’s dynamics, subcommittee structure, and work plan for the year.

From November until August 2020, the EJ Task Force will be meeting throughout Washington to learn directly from impacted community members on local environmental problems and solutions. Our first regional conversation will be in Yakima on November 21st – please sign up here to stay updated!

The EJ Task Force is a vital step for addressing health disparities in our communities and a first step toward adopting Environmental Justice principles statewide. Although the HEAL Act did not make it through the legislative process, thanks to our collective voices, we did get the task force funded in the budget. This taskforce is developing strategies to address environmental-health disparities with the guidance of leaders from communities most impacted by pollution. These recommendations must be delivered in a report from the Task Force to the Governor and Legislature by October 31, 2020. 

We were lucky to have some amazing community leaders join us for the first meeting to discuss why the EJ Task Force is important to their communities. Read some of the highlights from the meeting below and click here to sign up & stay updated!

Senator Saldaña, a primary author of the HEAL Act, reminded us that our goal is not to overcome our differences, but appreciate them and recognize the reasons why they exist. Through opening our eyes to reality, we can create transformative policy that focuses on improving the quality of life for the least well and thus makes us all better off.


Rev. Anthony Steele of Allen AME Church, located in Tacoma’s historically black Hilltop neighborhood, described environmental injustices in the African American community and reminded us that our government has not yet achieved equal protection under the law.

“If you want to know how to reach the Black community with resources, information, or funding you need to go directly through the African-American church instead of 2nd and 3rd hand agencies that have not been effective in reaching the Black community with necessary resources for the environment.”

Emily Pickney, the President of the Tacoma Urban League of Young Professionals and a Community Representative on the Task Force, focused on the importance of closing racial disparity gaps.

“For those who are historically marginalized and some of us who are at the table for the first time in generations, it’s important to acknowledge race. It creates so much discomfort to talk about race but I think discomfort is growth and we need to grow like that as a unit.”

Lua Pritchard, the Executive Director of the Asia Pacific Culture Center, reminded us of the grave dangers of climate change. She noted how rising sea levels are starting to swallow Pacific Island Nations, creating the need for family members to emigrate elsewhere, including to the Pacific Northwest.

We look forward to continuing these important conversations. Our next public meeting will be held in Yakima on November 21st – please sign up here to get involved!

In the meantime, please share your thoughts and ideas on how to address health disparities with the EJ Task Force directly here: [email protected]